|Author: TypeAxiom||Original Source: ScribbleHub|
Carmen ran his finger through his hair, brushing off the dirt from the long golden strands to reveal a vibrant luster. He had been doing that a lot lately. It was a habit that he had picked up from…he didn’t even know. Which was bad.
Something strange had been happening. While he remembered everything that he did—he remembered physically performing every movement of his own will, with his own reasons—there were some times when he felt an odd sense of detachment. Like it wasn’t really him that made the movements and decisions.
Stranger still was that whenever he directed his thoughts toward those peculiarities, the feeling of detachment simply disappeared…like now…
Carmen walked up the tunnel. The bags of ore were small and filled quickly, so he made the trip several dozen times a day. By now, even though no more than a week had passed, he could make the trip with his eyes closed.
Having absorbed over a dozen zombies already—five miners, two sack zombies, and eight expansion zombies since they wouldn’t be missed for at least a week—in three days, he had grown so strong that the ore sack which he needed to carry on his back at first could easily be lifted with one arm.
If he pushed himself and concentrated, he could even run without tripping.
By now, if he wished, he could kill Orlog, but he held himself back. Orlog hadn’t noticed the missing zombies yet, and he still had room to grow.
The gem of control still held sway over him. Until he broke free from the gem, he could never truly escape.
Besides, he didn’t know what that acolyte will return. It wouldn’t do if she interrupted him and in inopportune time.
After Carmen dropped off his sack of ore and returned into the depths of the tunnels, he tossed his bag to one of the labouring sack zombies and descended deeper into the mines, toward the bottom of the artificial cave system.
Carmen had begun preying on the expansion zombies after it was becoming increasingly difficult to find a mining or sack zombie that he could kill and eat without impacting ore production enough for Orlog to notice. Obviously, the sorting zombies were off limits.
That only left the expansion zombies, which he at first hesitated to near because of the black mist they constantly gave off. The feeling of his mind almost being taken over was unforgettable, and perhaps even left a mental scar of subconscious fear.
That scar disappeared when he cautiously descended down into the deepest parts of the mine one day. He braved the needle-like attacks on his mind without even flinching.
Right before its comrades’ eyes, she had selected a zombie of medium size and tore it limb from limb, sucking it dry of its black mist, and taking its power for herself.
Because the expansion zombie was so large, it needed more mana just to move. The amount of power Carmen absorbed from that single expansion zombie was almost twice the amount of the smaller sack zombies.
She might have stayed and eaten another one if the attacking mist didn’t grow stronger all of a sudden.
Still, the expansion zombies were a…delicacy—they had such intense undead power that she found herself going back again and again, almost neglecting her sack zombie duties. Before she realized it, she had already eaten seven zombies and was starting on her eighth.
“Just a few more and I’ll probably become a real zombie knight,” Carmen whispered as she headed down toward the workstation that the expansion zombies had set up. “So close, yet so far.”
She placed her hand on the rough cave walls, feeling the bumps and ridges beneath her finger. The air shimmered and seemed to catch on the stone, peeling away. The glamour magic that covered her drew away like a curtain.
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Gone with the illusion magic was her rotten appearance, along with the dirt and grime. Her uneven gait steadied until it became a confident stride, so carefree that it was almost as if she was dancing. She steps were so smooth that it seemed as if ground she walked on was not rough and uneven stone, but rather carpeted marble.
The rotten zombie girl was nowhere to be seen, and walking in her place was a young girl with golden hair that reached down to her knees. Although she still wore the tattered rags, she didn’t look at all pitiful.
Carmen ran her fingers through her hair again before she grabbed a handful, splitting it into three bundles, and began to braid her hair in order to kill time. It was a long way down.
When she finally arrived at the opening in the slanted tunnels, Carmen simply shook the braid loose and let her hair fall from her fingers.
As always, waiting for her at the entrance of the workstation, was a wall of black mist. As she approached, instead of approaching her like they used to do, the mist instead shrank back, bulging inwards away from her.
“Oh? I see you’ve learned that attacking me is pointless,” Carmen said with a smile. To some extent, she had predicted this reaction. After the eighth expansion zombie, the attacks of the mist went from an irritation to no more than a tickle. Now that she had completely digested the power of the eighth zombie, and the mist had one less zombie body to use as a weapon, her mind should be totally impervious to being assimilated by this group of expansion zombies.
Before, she hadn’t stayed for longer because she needed to bring up a bag of ore on time. Now, that act pointless. Once she became a zombie knight, she no longer needed to carry these ore sacks anymore. She’d become unstoppable in this mine.
There was no use in keeping up the pretense if she could just evolve here and now, and leave right after.
“And so, with that said, I suppose this place has become a personal buffet,” Carmen said. She looked around the cave room and began to count the zombies. “One, two, three…eight…twenty present, with some still in the tunnels. That should be enough.”
Closing her eyes, she pointed in a random direction. When she opened her eyes again, the direction she pointed at turned out to be free of zombies, but there was a rather large zombie nearby.
With a small sigh of disappointment, Carmen shift her finger so it pointed in the right direction. “I suppose I’ll start with you. How rude, ignoring me when I don’t even have a conversation partner.”
She bit her lip. The zombie didn’t even turn around. Instead, it was hard at work sharpening a pick that had dulled from hitting rock all day. It looked like it was concentrating so hard that Carmen hesitated to bother it, but fair was fair. It wasn’t her fault it was unlucky.
She walked over to the zombie and kicked at its leg. The moment her foot came into contact with the zombie’s lower leg, the zombie buckled as it lost its support. The bone in the leg broke in two, sending the zombie crashing into the ground.
“Much easier to reach now.”
Like usual, she started with the head. After absorbing so many zombies, Carmen had already grown used to harvesting the energy. Without even needing to use her other hand, she simply pierced her fingers through the skull, and using the holes as a grip, twisted off the head of the zombie with a flick of her wrist.
The undead mana within the head, the unmanifested black mist, disappeared into her body without any fanfare.
While Carmen didn’t need to break the body into little pieces, it was the same concept as chewing. Breaking up the zombie made absorbing each piece more manageable and it was easier to ensure she didn’t miss any mana.
Arms, torso, legs. She worked her way down until finally, the zombie was merely a normal corpse that had been torn apart. Left alone amidst all these undead, it may rise again as a new zombie, but she wasn’t going to give it the chance to.
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Today, before sundown, she was going to consume this entire mine if she could.
“How strong will I be if I absorb everything? I doubt it will be enough to become a lord, but perhaps a strong knight is possible,” Carmen murmured as she decapitated another zombie. She had gotten her other hand dirty already, so this time she snapped off the head with both hands. It was much easier than using one hand.
Absorbing the second zombie didn’t take much time either, and Carmen quickly started on the third. But as she sank her fingers into the zombie’s still heart, a sudden weight pressed down upon her and every other zombie nearby.
Unlike her, the normal zombies couldn’t remain standing and fell onto the ground, flattening as if crushed under some incredibly powerful force. Although Carmen didn’t fall, she still sank to one knee despite her resistance.
“The gem of control?” she muttered. “Why is he using it now? What is he doing?”
As far as she knew, she hadn’t been gone long enough for Orlog to miss her yet. She should’ve had plenty of time to grow stronger and evolve into a zombie knight, breaking free from the gem’s control entirely, but out of nowhere someone used the gem! Did one of the sorting zombies break free?
Fighting the immobilizing command, Carmen managed to push herself to her feet. Her bones creaked as it protested the two conflicting orders it received—remain still, from the gem, and move, from herself.
If she had been her old self, freshly raised, Carmen would have been helpless against the gem’s compulsion. But now, with the strength of over a dozen zombies, she could still move, if just barely.
Gritting her teeth, Carmen stomped toward one of the fallen zombies. Just because she was compelled by the gem to remain still didn’t mean she couldn’t still grow stronger.
Perhaps she could even evolve with just one more and cast off this pressure?
As she took her first bite from the collapsed zombie, too stiff to do her usual decapitation, the pressure grew stronger, giving her pause.
“Is the gem coming down?”
The power of the gem varied with distance. With the amount of control the gem is exerting over her growing, she knew the person that held the gem had entered the tunnels and was heading deeper down.
Was Orlog conducting a check that she wasn’t aware of? That was really bad. If the gem got much closer, even she will succumb to its power.
“I should hurry.” Her hand that had been resting on top of the zombie’s neck acted as a channel that sucked the power within the collapsed zombie into her.
As the zombie became a normal corpse, the pressure on its body seemed to fade.
However, what Carmen wished for—to evolve into a zombie knight in the nick of time with her last available victim—did not happen. Worse, no other zombie was within grasp, so she couldn’t even challenge that final threshold once more.
She was trapped like a small animal in the gaze of a snake, unable to escape—frozen.
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The gem drew nearer as it came down the sloped tunnels. Carmen fixed her gaze toward the entrance of the doorway. What was Orlog doing at the bottom of the mines?
Finally, the perpetrator revealed itself as she stepped into the large, dimly lit chamber. Carmen blinked. It wasn’t Orlog.
“Stop there!” It was the strangely familiar acolyte, who had been missing for three days.
While she had been gone, Carmen occasionally wondered where she was. Perhaps the surveillance was only temporary, or the acolyte had unfinished business back at her church.
But never did she even consider the possibility that her cover had been blown, and that the first thing the acolyte would do upon returning was to use the gem of control to suppress her.
Mustering all of the strength within her body, Carmen tried to stand up, but instead, the strength drained from her limbs. She could only watch with a pale face in silence as the acolyte held up the gem of control in her left hand.
“Prepare to die, zombie!” In the acolyte’s right hand, a ball of pure golden light gathered, growing stronger and stronger.
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